By KELLEY SHANNON Associated Press Writer
AUSTIN — Texas is a major artery for human trafficking and state laws need to be strengthened to combat the form of "modern-day slavery," a state senator and the attorney general said Monday.
"It is vile. It is almost unthinkable what happens to these victims," said Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a San Antonio Democrat who has filed anti-human trafficking legislation for the 2009 session.
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott joined her at a Capitol news conference to urge passage of more state laws to combat human trafficking, an illegal practice in which people are forced into labor or sex. Abbott said he wants his office to have prosecuting authority over human trafficking.
"The reality is it is getting worse and worse on a yearly basis," Abbott said. "Women are treated as slaves, often forced into despicable acts. Also, children are sold and traded to perform some of the most despicable sex acts."
An estimated one in five people transported in human trafficking rings are in Texas or come through Texas, with El Paso and Houston serving as major hotbeds for the activity along Interstate 10, Abbott said.
Currently his office doesn't have prosecution authority over human trafficking cases unless it is deputized and asked to assist a federal prosecutor or asked by a local prosecutor to step in.
Van de Putte, whose San Antonio district is located along I-10, said she wants to see more awareness of human trafficking through a state task force that would work with federal officials. She also wants more law enforcement and prosecutor training to battle the crime.
More details of the proposed legislation are still being worked on, she said.
In the 2007 Legislature, she passed a bill to toughen the legal definition of human trafficking to include "coercion." That allowed authorities to pursue ring leaders along with those actually transporting and harboring people against their will, she said.
"Make no doubt about it, this is organized. This is a very sophisticated organized ring," Van de Putte said. "These human traffickers are like cockroaches. Any time one jurisdiction starts to shed that light and starts to get tough, they scatter to the outlying counties."
Abbott's office and the state Health and Human Services Commission compiled a report for legislators containing statistics and evaluating existing laws and social services.
A U.S. State Department report found that 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year. Of those, 80 percent are female and 50 percent are children.
In the United States, most trafficking victims are from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe and most are trafficked into sex industries, domestic servitude, agriculture labor and sweatshops, according to studies cited in the state-commissioned report.
The human trafficking bill is SB 89.
November 17, 2008 - 2:53 p.m. CST